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Date: Sun, 16 Jul 1995 21:26:22 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@crl.com>
Subject: H32: Yet more on the spelling of Voodoo
Message-Id: <Pine.SUN.3.91.950716212559.24136S-100000@crl8.crl.com>

Yet more on the spelling of Voodoo

A dialog on Bob Corbett's Haiti list, 16 July 1995

The name of the Haitian religion has many spellings. I have chosen to use Voodoo. Many other spellings have been used in the literature over the years including Vodun, Vodou, Vodoun, Vaudou, Vaudoux.

Each of these is an attempt to spell the word in a way which represents how it is pronounced in Haiti. Actually the word is seldom even used by Haitians. They do not refer to the religion by the name Voodoo, but speak of people following the loa, or serving the loa.

In recent years some scholars have despaired of getting Americans over their ridiculous and negative images of Voodoo created by sensationalist tales, Hollywood movies and popular culture. One tactic has been to avoid the spelling Voodoo in order to call attention to the fact of something different because of the unusual spelling.

Normally I think this is a decent tactic, and I find myself much enamored of philosophers like the German existentialists who use this tactic in their philosophizing. But, I have chosen NOT to use an alternative spelling, but to stick with Voodoo, the most common spelling in English, simply to recognize that spelling as dominant. Yet I do hope to correct the false, racist and anti-Haitian images connected with this word.

I capitalize the word throughout. The names of other religions--Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are always capitalized. Voodoo should be treated in the same fashion as other religions.

From Leslie G. Desmangles, The Faces of the Gods (1992), pp. XI-XII:

There is much academic disagreement among scholars about the name of Haiti's folk religion, and about the orthography of the word vodou. The common term voodoo, a distortion of the Dahomean (or Beninois) word vodu (meaning god or spirit), has been used by many scholars (Deren, Laguerre). But unfortunately, in popular literature and films the term voodoo has been misconstrued as sorcery, witchcraft, and in some cases cannibalistic practices, all of which are false and have kindled many foreigners' prejudices not only about Vodou, but about Haitian culture in general. Other scholars have used the term vodun or vodoun (Leyburn, Mintz, Davis, Courlander) in order to dispel popular misconceptions about the religion. Although I have used vodun in the past, I adopt Vodou for this book because it is phonetically more correct, and because it corresponds to the nomenclature used by the Haitians themselves for their religion. Until 1986, Haitian Creole had no official orthography, Hence, both Haitian and foreign writers were left to their own devices in developing their systems of phonetic transcriptions. Many (Price-Mars and Paul, among others) have been influenced heavily by French orthography, using the francophone form vaudou in their writings. But the current method of phonetic transcription developed by Yves Dejean-the method most widely accepted by Haitians and used in elementary schools in Haiti since 1986-suggests that the correct spelling of the term is the one I have adopted. Likewise, because Haitian Creole possesses no complete dictionary, there is no official orthography for all the words in its vocabulary. Hence, the phonetic transcriptions of unwritten (or unrecorded) Creole words used throughout this book approximate the orthographic method suggested by Dejean.

See page 265 of Lawless' Bibliography for an account of modern scholars and how they spell Voodoo.

See p. 113 of Leyburn for good argument about the spelling of the word.

See p. xxv and xxvi of intro to Price-Mars, So Spoke the Uncle.

See p. 49 Sir Spenser St. John. He uses Vaudoux.

See: Lawless. Haiti's Bad Press. p. xii. He uses Voodoo. Also see p. 73